Jessamy questionnaire

August 30, 2010

The Sun asked the candidates for Baltimore state's attorney to complete a questionnaire as part of our endorsement process. The questions were derived from suggestions made by readers. After reading the responses, please let us know which candidate you support and why, either on the editorial board's blog, Second Opinion, or by sending an e-mail to talkback@baltimoresun.com. A selection of readers' comments will appear alongside our endorsement.

Democrat Patricia Jessamy's responses to The Sun's questionnaire:

1. Summarize your education and professional experience. How does your background fit the current needs of the state's attorney's office?

My interest in a legal career is tied to an experience in my teens, about 1965, when I joined with several other plaintiffs in my hometown of Hollandale, Mississippi to address segregation in many local gathering spots, such as the movie theatre, library and lunch counters. As a plaintiff in the lawsuit, I appeared in federal court and had the opportunity to see lawyers in action. This experience led me to attend law school at the University of Mississippi after graduating from Jackson State University in 1970.

Following my graduation from law school, I worked as a private practice attorney in Cleveland, Mississippi. In addition to representing criminal defendants, civil litigants and others, I also handled civil rights cases on behalf of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. One case, a Section V voting rights case resulted in greater representation for African-Americans on the Grenada City Council. As a defense attorney, I successfully represented one of the early "burning bed cases" where my client suffered emotional and physical domestic violence abuse over a period of years. I continued to work as a defense attorney after moving to Michigan, and was later employed as an assistant county prosecutor in Genesee County (Flint) Michigan. When we later relocated to Kansas City, Missouri, I worked as a staff attorney for the Social Security Administration.

After moving to Baltimore, I accepted a position as a staff attorney in the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office in 1985. I chose the path of a prosecutor because I believe the fair, equitable and just application of the law is vitally important. A defense attorney works for one individual. A prosecutor works for the people.

As chief prosecutor in Baltimore, I bring a very broad, diverse life experience to this position. While I devote considerable time and energy to my job, I also have volunteered in many different non-profit organizations and have served in a leadership capacity on foundations and boards. I am committed to building a stronger community. My community and civic involvement includes current and prior service on the boards of the United Way of Central Maryland (Board Chair 2000-2003), the Walters Art Museum, the Baltimore Child Abuse Center and the Elijah Cummings Youth in Israel Program and a number of others.

2. What additional efforts can the state's attorney's office undertake to protect witnesses who feel threatened? What strategies can the office employ to move cases forward when witnesses or victims are reluctant to testify?

Before I answer what additional efforts are needed I would like to comment on the ways I have addressed witness and victim issues as Baltimore's top prosecutor.

In 1999, I joined with Maryland prosecutors to seek a statewide victim witness protection fund that is supported through the collection of state fees and fines. The fund is administered by the Maryland State's Attorneys Association (MSAA), and each local jurisdiction in Maryland can apply for annual grant funding to help pay for specific expenses related to witness relocation and protection. The fund is outlined in Maryland law. For almost a decade we have successfully used this fund to help defray the cost of operating our witness assistance program and to expand relocation and protection services offered to our victims and witnesses. This statewide fund is limited to the fines and fees collected each year.

In 1994, as Deputy State's Attorney I developed the Baltimore City Victim Witness Assistance program following the murder of a high profile witness at a local hotel who was to testify in a federal narcotics trial. Over time, the program, which offers services to victims and witnesses involved in pending criminal cases where an arrest has been made (another program is offered by the police department and is operated by the city), has expanded to include a variety of services. Our program has never lost a witness who has followed the guidelines of the program.

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